Stress can cause many different symptoms. It might affect both your physical and mental health, as well as how you behave. Some of the symptoms can have knock-on effects. For example, if stress causes you problems with your digestion, this may affect your diet in turn, and your overall physical health – which may then become an additional source of stress.
It’s important to remember that everyone experiences autism differently. Just like anyone else, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.
Physical symptoms can include:
Mental symptoms can include:
Changes in behaviour can include:
While most stress is a normal part of everyday life with no long-term effects, ongoing stress can cause knock-on effects and be linked to mental health issues.
People suffering from ongoing or frequent high levels of stress that they are unable to manage effectively may go on to develop a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression.
The pressure of managing mental health problems may, conversely, also become a cause of stress.
The effects of stress on individuals will vary depending on their ability to manage them, which can in turn be affected by factors such as their level of emotional resilience, their lived experience of dealing with challenging situations, the support network of family and friends around them, and how well other areas of their life are going at the time.
While you may be aware that you are feeling under pressure mentally, the first real signs that stress is having an effect on your wellbeing are often physical symptoms, such as being tired but having problems sleeping, or experiencing headaches or digestive issues.
The causes and risk factors for stress vary with each individual. Stress itself may lead to further physical or mental health problems.
Stress is normally triggered by situations within your everyday life that place you under pressure. These can involve negative pressure such as problems at work, or the natural challenges felt when dealing with life changes such as a wedding, a new baby, or retirement. Typical causes of stress can include:
Situations that may generally be considered as happy events but that can still cause stress include:
Stress doesn’t have to be caused by just one big issue; it can also be the result of a number of smaller worries that build up over time.
Being under pressure is a normal part of life and everyone will feel stressed at some point. The stress you feel from being under pressure can be a positive force, helping you to face up to challenges and giving you the motivation to deal effectively with difficult situations. However, it can also have a negative effect, depending on how it is managed.
Feelings of stress are usually a result of everyday events that are temporary and will change over time. This kind of stress is a normal part of life. However, long-term stress that isn’t managed well can lead to health problems and wellbeing choices that could impact on your life expectancy.
With ongoing stress, the temporary symptoms associated with stress can develop into chronic health issues affecting the immune and digestive systems, and cause problems with your heart, sleep, and reproductive health.
Over time, continued stress may also lead to mental disorders such as depression or anxiety. These can be exacerbated by behavioural changes such as increased drinking or smoking.
There is no specific treatment or medication for stress because it isn’t a medical condition in itself. However, there is support available to reduce its effects and help manage the possible symptoms.
If you are struggling to cope, or the symptoms of your stress or anxiety won’t go away, you should speak to your doctor or other health professional, as there are treatments available that could help. These include talking therapies, medication, mindfulness, ecotherapy, and complementary therapies.
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Much research into stress focuses on ways that people can effectively manage its symptoms. For example, research has been carried out into how music can lead to feelings of pleasure(3) and its effects on stress within couples(4) and recovery from stressful situations(5).
A paper in the journal Experimental and Molecular Medicine also considers the effect of stress on release of the hormone dopamine and how it helps us select the best way to cope with stressful situations.(6)
The US publication Psychology Today(7) has highlighted research on strategies for stress management. The methods covered include reframing our stressors in a less negative way, improving our planning, learning to relax, affirming our values and using our strengths, being more forgiving, practising mindfulness, and expressing gratitude.
Researchers looking at the gut–brain axis are also investigating the importance of the human microbiota (the ‘good’ bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our digestive system). The gut microbiota has been implicated in a variety of stress-related conditions, including anxiety, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome, although additional research in humans is needed to reveal the relative impact and causal contribution of the microbiota to stress-related disorders(8).